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Pausanias, the Spartan by Lord Lytton

Part 5 out of 5

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For the first time I felt a creep of undefinable horror. Not so my
servant. "Why, they don't think to trap us, sir; I could break that
trumpery door with a kick of my foot."

"Try first if it will open to your hand," said I, shaking off the
vague apprehension that had seized me, "while I unclose the shutters
and see what is without."

I unbarred the shutters--the window looked on the little back yard I
have before described; there was no ledge without--nothing to break
the sheer descent of the wall. No man getting out of that window would
have found any footing till he had fallen on the stones below.

F----, meanwhile, was vainly attempting to open the door. He now
turned round to me and asked my permission to use force. And I should
here state, in justice to the servant, that, far from evincing any
superstitious terrors, his nerve, composure, and even gaiety amidst
circumstances so extraordinary, compelled my admiration, and made me
congratulate myself on having secured a companion in every way fitted
to the occasion. I willingly gave him the permission he required. But
though he was a remarkably strong man, his force was as idle as his
milder efforts; the door did not even shake to his stoutest kick.
Breathless and panting, he desisted. I then tried the door myself,
equally in vain. As I ceased from the effort, again that creep of
horror came over me; but this time it was more cold and stubborn. I
felt as if some strange and ghastly exhalation were rising up from
the chinks of that rugged floor, and filling the atmosphere with a
venomous influence hostile to human life. The door now very slowly and
quietly opened as of its own accord. We precipitated ourselves into
the landing-place. We both saw a large pale light--as large as the
human figure, but shapeless and unsubstantial--move before us, and
ascend the stairs that led from the landing into the attics. I
followed the light, and my servant followed me. It entered, to the
right of the landing, a small garret, of which the door stood open.
I entered in the same instant. The light then collapsed into a small
globule, exceedingly brilliant and vivid; rested a moment on a bed in
the corner, quivered, and vanished. We approached the bed and examined
it--a half-tester, such as is commonly found in attics devoted to
servants. On the drawers that stood near it we perceived an old faded
silk kerchief, with the needle still left in a rent half repaired. The
kerchief was covered with dust; probably it had belonged to the old
woman who had last died in that house, and this might have been her
sleeping room. I had sufficient curiosity to open the drawers: there
were a few odds and ends of female dress, and two letters tied round
with a narrow ribbon of faded yellow. I took the liberty to possess
myself of the letters. We found nothing else in the room worth
noticing--nor did the light reappear; but we distinctly heard, as we
turned to go, a pattering footfall on the floor--just before us.
We went through the other attics (in all four), the footfall still
preceding us. Nothing to be seen--nothing but the footfall heard. I
had the letters in my hand: just as I was descending the stairs I
distinctly felt my wrist seized, and a faint soft effort made to draw
the letters from my clasp. I only held them the more tightly, and the
effort ceased.

We regained the bedchamber appropriated to myself, and I then remarked
that my dog had not followed us when we had left it. He was thrusting
himself close to the fire, and trembling. I was impatient to examine
the letters; and while I read them, my servant opened a little box in
which he had deposited the weapons I had ordered him to bring; took
them out, placed them on a table close at my bed-head, and then
occupied himself in soothing the dog, who, however, seemed to heed him
very little.

The letters were short--they were dated; the dates exactly thirty-five
years ago. They were evidently from a lover to his mistress, or a
husband to some young wife. Not only the terms of expression, but a
distinct reference to a former voyage, indicated the writer to have
been a seafarer. The spelling and handwriting were those of a man
imperfectly educated, but still the language itself was forcible. In
the expressions of endearment there was a kind of rough wild love; but
here and there were dark unintelligible hints at some secret not of
love--some secret that seemed of crime. "We ought to love each other,"
was one of the sentences I remember, "for how every one else would
execrate us if all was known." Again: "Don't let any one be in the
same room with you at night--you talk in your sleep." And again:
"What's done can't be undone; and I tell you there's nothing against
us unless the dead could come to life." Here there was underlined in a
better handwriting (a female's), "They do!" At the end of the letter
latest in date the same female hand had written these words: "Lost at
sea the 4th of June, the same day as----."

I put down the letters, and began to muse over their contents.

Fearing, however, that the train of thought into which I fell might
unsteady my nerves, I fully determined to keep my mind in a fit state
to cope with whatever of marvellous the advancing night might bring
forth. I roused myself--laid the letters on the table--stirred up the
fire, which was still bright and cheering--and opened my volume of
Macaulay. I read quietly enough till about half-past eleven. I then
threw myself dressed upon the bed, and told my servant he might retire
to his own room, but must keep himself awake. I bade him leave open
the door between the two rooms. Thus alone, I kept two candles burning
on the table by my bed-head. I placed my watch beside the weapons, and
calmly resumed my Macaulay. Opposite to me the fire burned clear;
and on the hearthrug, seemingly asleep, lay the dog. In about twenty
minutes I felt an exceedingly cold air pass by my cheek, like a sudden
draught. I fancied the door to my right, communicating with the
landing-place, must have got open; but no--it was closed. I then
turned my glance to my left, and saw the flame of the candles
violently swayed as by a wind. At the same moment the watch beside
the revolver softly slid from the table--softly, softly--no visible
hand--it was gone. I sprang up, seizing the revolver with the one
hand, the dagger with the other: I was not willing that my weapons
should share the fate of the watch. Thus armed, I looked round the
floor--no sign of the watch. Three slow, loud, distinct knocks were
now heard at the bed-head; my servant culled out, "Is that you, sir?"

"No; be on your guard."

The dog now roused himself and sat on his haunches, his ears moving
quickly backwards and forwards. He kept his eyes fixed on me with a
look so strange that he concentred all my attention on himself. Slowly
he rose up, all his hair bristling, and stood perfectly rigid, and
with the same wild stare. I had no time, however, to examine the dog.
Presently my servant emerged from his room; and if ever I saw horror
in the human face, it was then. I should not have recognised him had
we met in the street, so altered was every lineament. He passed by me
quickly, saying in a whisper that seemed scarcely to come from his
lips, "Run--run! it is after me!" He gained the door to the landing,
pulled it open, and rushed forth. I followed him into the landing
involuntarily, calling him to stop; but, without heeding me, he
bounded down the stairs, clinging to the balusters, and taking several
steps at a time. I heard, where I stood, the street-door open--heard
it again clap to. I was left alone in the haunted house.

It was but for a moment that I remained undecided whether or not to
follow my servant; pride and curiosity alike forbade so dastardly a
flight. I reentered my room, closing the door after me, and proceeded
cautiously into the interior chamber. I encountered nothing to justify
my servant's terror. I again carefully examined the walls, to see if
there were any concealed door. I could find no trace of one--not even
a seam in the dull-brown paper with which the room was hung. How,
then, had the THING, whatever it was, which had so scared him,
obtained ingress except through my own chamber?

I returned to my room, shut and locked the door that opened upon the
interior one, and stood on the hearth, expectant and prepared. I now
perceived that the dog had slunk into an angle of the wall, and was
pressing himself close against it, as if literally striving to force
his way into it. I approached the animal and spoke to it; the poor
brute was evidently beside itself with terror. It showed all its
teeth, the slaver dropping from its jaws, and would certainly have
bitten me if I had touched it. It did not seem to recognise me.
Whoever has seen at the Zoological Gardens a rabbit fascinated by a
serpent, cowering in a corner, may form some idea of the anguish which
the dog exhibited. Finding all efforts to soothe the animal in vain,
and fearing that his bite might be as venomous in that state as in the
madness of hydrophobia, I left him alone, placed my weapons on the
table beside the fire, seated myself, and recommenced my Macaulay.

Perhaps, in order not to appear seeking credit for a courage, or
rather a coolness, which the reader may conceive I exaggerate, I may
be pardoned if I pause to indulge in one or two egotistical remarks.

As I hold presence of mind, or what is called courage, to be precisely
proportioned to familiarity with the circumstances that lead to it,
so I should say that I had been long sufficiently familiar with all
experiments that appertain to the Marvellous. I had witnessed many
very extraordinary phenomena in various parts of the world--phenomena
that would be either totally disbelieved if I stated them, or ascribed
to supernatural agencies. Now, my theory is that the Supernatural
is the Impossible, and that what is called supernatural is only
a something in the laws of nature of which we have been hitherto
ignorant. Therefore, if a ghost rise before me, I have not the right
to say, "So, then, the supernatural is possible," but rather, "So,
then, the apparition of a ghost is, contrary to received opinion,
within the laws of nature--i.e., not supernatural."

Now, in all that I had hitherto witnessed, and indeed in all the
wonders which the amateurs of mystery in our age record as facts, a
material living agency is always required. On the Continent you will
find still magicians who assert that they can raise spirits. Assume
for the moment that they assert truly, still the living material form
of the magician is present; and lie is the material agency by which,
from some constitutional peculiarities, certain strange phenomena, are
represented to your natural senses.

Accept, again, as truthful, the tales of Spirit Manifestation in
America--musical or other sounds--writings on paper, produced by no
discernible hand--articles of furniture moved without apparent human
agency--or the actual sight and touch of hands, to which no bodies
seem to belong--still there must be found the MEDIUM or living being,
with constitutional peculiarities capable of obtaining these signs. In
fine, in all such marvels, supposing even that there is no imposture,
there must be a human being like ourselves by whom, or through whom,
the effects presented to human beings are produced. It is so with the
now familiar phenomena of mesmerism or electro-biology; the mind of
the person operated on is affected through a material living agent.
Nor, supposing it true that a mesmerised patient can respond to
the will or passes of a mesmeriser a hundred miles distant, is the
response less occasioned by a material being; it may be through a
material fluid--call it Electric, call it Odic, call it what you
will--which has the power of traversing space and passing obstacles,
that the material effect is communicated from one to the other. Hence
all that I had hitherto witnessed, or expected to witness, in this
strange house, I believed to be occasioned through some agency or
medium as mortal as myself; and this idea necessarily prevented the
awe with which those who regard as supernatural, things that are not
within the ordinary operations of nature, might have been impressed by
the adventures of that memorable night.

As, then, it was my conjecture that all that was presented, or would
be presented to my senses, must originate in some human being gifted
by constitution with the power so to present them, and having some
motive so to do, I felt an interest in my theory which, in its way,
was rather philosophical than superstitious. And I can sincerely say
that I was in as tranquil a temper for observation as any practical
experimentalist could be in awaiting the effects of some rare, though
perhaps perilous, chemical combination. Of course, the more I kept my
mind detached from fancy, the more the temper fitted for observation
would be obtained; and I therefore riveted eye and thought on the
strong daylight sense in the page of my Macaulay.

I now became aware that something interposed between the page and the
light--the page was over-shadowed: I looked up, and I saw what I shall
find it very difficult, perhaps impossible, to describe.

It was a Darkness shaping itself forth from the air in very undefined
outline. I cannot say it was of a human form, and yet it had more
resemblance to a human form, or rather shadow, than to anything else.
As it stood, wholly apart and distinct from the air and the light
around it, its dimensions seemed gigantic, the summit nearly touching
the ceiling. While I gazed, a feeling of intense cold seized me. An
iceberg before me could not more have chilled me; nor could the cold
of an iceberg have been more purely physical. I feel convinced that
it was not the cold caused by fear. As I continued to gaze; I
thought--but this I cannot say with precision--that I distinguished
two eyes looking down on me from the height. One moment I fancied that
I distinguished them clearly, the next they seemed gone; but still two
rays of a pale-blue light frequently shot through the darkness, as from
the height on which I half believed, half doubted, that I had
encountered the eyes.

I strove to speak--my voice utterly failed me; I could only think to
myself, "Is this fear? it is _not_ fear!" I strove to rise--in vain;
I felt as if weighed down by an irresistible force. Indeed, my
impression was that of an immense and overwhelming Power opposed to my
volition;--that sense of utter inadequacy to cope with a force beyond
man's, which one may feel _physically_ in a storm at sea, in a
conflagration, or when confronting some terrible wild beast, or
rather, perhaps, the shark of the ocean, I felt _morally_. Opposed to
my will was another will, as far superior to its strength as storm,
fire, and shark are superior in material force to the force of man.

And now, as this impression grew on me--now came, at last,
horror--horror to a degree that no words can convey. Still I retained
pride, if not courage; and in my own mind I said, "This is horror, but
it is not fear; unless I fear I cannot be harmed; my reason rejects
this thing; it is an illusion--I do not fear." With a violent effort I
succeeded at last in stretching out my hand towards the weapon on
the table: as I did so, on the arm and shoulder I received a strange
shock, and my arm fell to my side powerless. And now, to add to my
horror, the light began slowly to wane from the candles--they were
not, as it were, extinguished, but their flame seemed very gradually
withdrawn: it was the same with the fire--the light was extracted from
the fuel; in a few minutes the room was in utter darkness. The dread
that came over me, to be thus in the dark with that dark Thing, whose
power was so intensely felt, brought a reaction of nerve. In fact,
terror had reached that climax, that either my senses must have
deserted me, or I must have burst through the spell. I did burst
through it. I found voice, though the voice was a shriek. I remember
that I broke forth with words like these--"I do not fear, my soul does
not fear;" and at the same time I found the strength to rise. Still
in that profound gloom I rushed to one of the windows--tore aside the
curtain--flung open the shutters; my first thought was--LIGHT. And
when I saw the moon high, clear, and calm, I felt a joy that almost
compensated for the previous terror. There, was the moon, there, was
also the light from the gas-lamps in the deserted slumberous street. I
turned to look back into the room; the moon penetrated its shadow
very palely and partially--but still there was light. The dark Thing,
whatever it might be, was gone--except that I could yet see a dim
shadow, which seemed the shadow of that shade, against the opposite

My eye now rested on the table, and from under the table (which was
without cloth or cover--an old mahogany round table) there rose a
hand, visible as far as the wrist. It was a hand, seemingly, as much
of flesh and blood as my own, but the hand of an aged person--lean,
wrinkled, small too--a woman's hand. That hand very softly closed on
the two letters that lay on the table: hand and letters both vanished.
There then came the same three loud measured knocks I had heard at the
bed-head before this extraordinary drama had commenced.

As those sounds slowly ceased, I felt the whole room vibrate sensibly;
and at the far end there rose, as from the floor, sparks or globules
like bubbles of light, many-coloured--green, yellow, fire-red, azure.
Up and down, to and fro, hither, thither, as tiny Will-o'-the-Wisps,
the sparks moved, slow or swift, each at its own caprice. A chair (as
in the drawing-room below) was now advanced from the wall without
apparent agency, and placed at the opposite side of the table.
Suddenly, as forth from the chair, there grew a shape--a woman's
shape. It was distinct as a shape of life--ghastly as a shape of
death. The face was that of youth, with a strange mournful beauty; the
throat and shoulders were bare, the rest of the form in a loose robe
of cloudy white. It began sleeking its long yellow hair, which fell
over its shoulders; its eyes were not turned towards me, but to the
door; it seemed listening, watching, waiting. The shadow of the shade
in the background grew darker; and again I thought I beheld the eyes
gleaming out from the summit of the shadow--eyes fixed upon that

As if from the door, though it did not open, there grew out another
shape, equally distinct, equally ghastly--a man's shape--a young
man's. It was in the dress of the last century, or rather in a
likeness of such dress (for both the male shape and the female,
though defined, were evidently unsubstantial, impalpable--simulacra
--phantasms); and there was something incongruous, grotesque, yet
fearful, in the contrast between the elaborate finery, the courtly
precision of that old-fashioned garb; with its ruffles and lace and
buckles, and the corpse-like aspect and ghost-like stillness of the
flitting wearer. Just as the male shape approached the female, the
dark Shadow started from the wall, all three for a moment wrapped in
darkness. When the pale light returned, the two phantoms were as if in
the grasp of the Shadow that towered between them; and there was a
blood-stain on the breast of the female; and the phantom male was
leaning on its phantom sword, and blood seemed trickling fast from the
ruffles, from the lace; and the darkness of the intermediate Shadow
swallowed them up--they were gone. And again the bubbles of light shot,
and sailed, and undulated, growing thicker and thicker and more wildly
confused in their movements.

The closet door to the right of the fireplace now opened, and from the
aperture there came the form of an aged woman. In her hand she held
letters,--the very letters over which I had seen _the_ Hand close; and
behind her I heard a footstep. She turned round as if to listen, and
then she opened the letters and seemed to read; and over her shoulder
I saw a livid face, the face as of a man long drowned--bloated,
bleached--seaweed tangled in its dripping hair; and at her feet lay a
form as of a corpse, and beside the corpse there cowered a child, a
miserable squalid child, with famine in its cheeks and fear in its
eyes. And as I looked in the old woman's face, the wrinkles and lines
vanished, and it became a face of youth--hard-eyed, stony, but still
youth; and the Shadow darted forth, and darkened over these phantoms
as it had darkened over the last.

Nothing now was left but the Shadow, and on that my eyes were intently
fixed, till again eyes grew out of the Shadow--malignant, serpent
eyes. And the bubbles of light again rose and fell, and in their
disordered, irregular, turbulent maze, mingled with the wan moonlight.
And now from these globules themselves, as from the shell of an egg,
monstrous things burst out; the air grew filled with them; larvae so
bloodless and so hideous that I can in no way describe them except
to remind the reader of the swarming life which the solar microscope
brings before his eyes in a drop of water--things transparent, supple,
agile, chasing each other, devouring each other--forms like nought
ever beheld by the naked eye. As the shapes were without symmetry, so
their movements were without order. In their very vagrancies there
was no sport; they came round me and round, thicker and faster and
swifter, swarming over my head, crawling over my right arm, which was
outstretched in involuntary command against all evil beings. Sometimes
I felt myself touched, but not by them; invisible hands touched me.
Once I felt the clutch as of cold soft fingers at my throat. I was
still equally conscious that if I gave way to fear I should be in
bodily peril; and I concentred all my faculties in the single focus of
resisting, stubborn will. And I turned my sight from the Shadow--above
all, from those strange serpent eyes--eyes that had now become
distinctly visible. For there, though in nought else around me, I was
aware that there was a WILL, and a will of intense, creative, working
evil, which might crush down my own.

The pale atmosphere in the room began now to redden as if in the air
of some near conflagration. The larvae grew lurid as things that live
in fire. Again the room vibrated; again were heard the three measured
knocks; and again all things were swallowed up in the darkness of
the dark Shadow, as if out of that darkness all had come, into that
darkness all returned.

As the gloom receded, the Shadow was wholly gone. Slowly as it had
been withdrawn, the flame grew again into the candles on the table,
again into the fuel in the grate. The whole room came once more
calmly, healthfully into sight.

The two doors were still closed, the door communicating with the
servant's room still locked. In the corner of the wall, into which he
had so convulsively niched himself, lay the dog. I called to him--no
movement; I approached--the animal was dead; his eyes protruded; his
tongue out of his mouth; the froth gathered round his jaws. I took him
in my arms; I brought him to the fire; I felt acute grief for the loss
of my poor favourite--acute self-reproach; I accused myself of his
death; I imagined he had died of fright. But what was my surprise on
finding that his neck was actually broken. Had this been done in the
dark?--must it not have been by a hand human as mine?--must there not
have been a human agency all the while in that room? Good cause to
suspect it. I cannot tell. I cannot do more than state the fact
fairly; the reader may draw his own inference.

Another surprising circumstance--my watch was restored to the table
from which it had been so mysteriously withdrawn; but it had stopped
at the very moment it was so withdrawn; nor, despite all the skill
of the watchmaker, has it ever gone since--that is, it will go in a
strange erratic way for a few hours, and then come to a dead stop--it
is worthless.

Nothing more chanced for the rest of the night. Nor, indeed, had I
long to wait before the dawn broke. Nor till it was broad daylight
did I quit the haunted house. Before I did so, I revisited the
little blind room in which my servant and myself had been for a
time imprisoned. I had a strong impression--for which I could not
account--that from that room had originated the mechanism of the
phenomena--if I may use the term--which had been experienced in my
chamber. And though I entered it now in the clear day, with the sun
peering through the filmy window, I still felt, as I stood on its
floor, the creep of the horror which I had first there experienced the
night before, and which had been so aggravated by what had passed in
my own chamber. I could not, indeed, bear to stay more than half a
minute within those walls. I descended the stairs, and again I heard
the footfall before me; and when I opened the street door, I thought I
could distinguish a very low laugh. I gained my own home, expecting to
find my runaway servant there. But he had not presented himself; nor
did I hear more of him for three days, when I received a letter from
him, dated from Liverpool, to this effect:--

"HONOURED SIR,--I humbly entreat your pardon, though I can scarcely
hope that you will think I deserve it, unless--which Heaven
forbid!--you saw what I did. I feel that it will be years before I
can recover myself; and as to being fit for service, it is out of the
question. I am therefore going to my brother-in-law at Melbourne. The
ship sails to-morrow. Perhaps the long voyage may set me up. I do
nothing now but start and tremble, and fancy IT is behind me. I humbly
beg you, honoured sir, to order my clothes, and whatever wages are
due to me, to be sent to my mother's, at Walworth,--John knows her

The letter ended with additional apologies, somewhat incoherent, and
explanatory details as to effects that had been under the writer's

This flight may perhaps warrant a suspicion that the man wished to go
to Australia, and had been somehow or other fraudulently mixed up
with the events of the night. I say nothing in refutation of that
conjecture; rather, I suggest it as one that would seem to many
persons the most probable solution of improbable occurrences. My
belief in my own theory remained unshaken. I returned in the evening
to the house, to bring away in a hack cab the things I had left there,
with my poor dog's body. In this task I was not disturbed, nor did any
incident worth note befall me, except that still, on ascending and
descending the stairs, I heard the same footfall in advance. On
leaving the house, I went to Mr. J's. He was at home. I returned him
the keys, told him that my curiosity was sufficiently gratified, and
was about to relate quickly what had passed, when he stopped me, and
said, though with much politeness, that he had no longer any interest
in a mystery which none had ever solved.

I determined at least to tell him of the two letters I had read, as
well as of the extraordinary manner in which they had disappeared, and
I then inquired if he thought they had been addressed to the woman who
had died in the house, and if there were anything in her early history
which could possibly confirm the dark suspicions to which the letters
gave rise. Mr. J---- seemed startled, and, after musing a few moments,
answered, "I am but little acquainted with the woman's earlier
history, except, as I before told you, that her family were known to
mine. But you revive some vague reminiscences to her prejudice. I will
make inquiries, and inform you of their result. Still, even if we
could admit the popular superstition that a person who had been either
the perpetrator or the victim of dark crimes in life could revisit, as
a restless spirit, the scene in which those crimes had been committed,
I should observe that the house was infested by strange sights and
sounds before the old woman died--you smile--what would you say?"

"I would say this, that I am convinced, if we could get to the bottom
of these mysteries, we should find a living human agency."

"What! you believe it is all an imposture? for what object?"

"Not an imposture in the ordinary sense of the word. If suddenly I
were to sink into a deep sleep, from which you could not awake me, but
in that sleep could answer questions with an accuracy which I could
not pretend to when awake--tell you what money you had in your
pocket--nay, describe your very thoughts--it is not necessarily an
imposture, any more than it is necessarily supernatural. I should be,
unconsciously to myself, under a mesmeric influence, conveyed to me
from a distance by a human being who had acquired power over me by
previous _rapport_."

"But if a mesmeriser could so affect another living being, can you
suppose that a mesmeriser could also affect inanimate objects: move
chairs--open and shut doors?"

"Or impress our senses with the belief in such effects--we never
having been _en rapport_ with the person acting on us? No. What is
commonly called mesmerism could not do this; but there may be a power
akin to mesmerism, and superior to it--the power that in the old
days was called Magic. That such a power may extend to all inanimate
objects of matter, I do not say; but if so, it would not be against
nature--it would be only a rare power in nature which might be given
to constitutions with certain peculiarities, and cultivated by
practice to an extraordinary degree. That such a power might extend
over the dead--that is, over certain thoughts and memories that the
dead may still retain--and compel, not that which ought properly to
be called the SOUL, and which is for beyond human reach, but rather a
phantom of what has been most earth-stained on earth, to make itself
apparent to our senses--is a very ancient though obsolete theory, upon
which I will hazard no opinion. But I do not conceive the power would
be supernatural. Let me illustrate what I mean from an experiment
which Paracelsus describes as not difficult, and which the author of
the _Curiosities of Literature_ cites as credible:--A flower perishes;
you burn it. Whatever were the elements of that flower while it lived
are gone, dispersed, you know not whither; you can never discover nor
re-collect them. But you can, by chemistry, out of the burnt dust of
that flower, raise a spectrum of the flower, just as it seemed in
life. It may be the same with the human being. The soul has as much
escaped you as the essence or elements of the flower. Still you
may make a spectrum of it. And this phantom, though in the popular
superstition it is held to be the soul of the departed, must not be
confounded with the true soul; it is but the eidolon of the dead form.
Hence, like the best-attested stories of ghosts or spirits, the thing
that most strikes us is the absence of what we hold to be soul; that
is, of superior emancipated intelligence. These apparitions come for
little or no object--they seldom speak when they do come; if they
speak, they utter no ideas above those of an ordinary person on earth.
American spirit-seers have published volumes of communications in
prose and verse, which they assert to be given in the names of the
most illustrious dead--Shakespeare, Bacon--heaven knows whom. Those
communications, taking the best, are certainly not a whit of higher
order than would be communications from living persons of fair
talent and education; they are wondrously inferior to what Bacon,
Shakespeare, and Plato said and wrote when on earth. Nor, what is more
noticeable, do they ever contain an idea that was not on the earth
before. Wonderful, therefore, as such phenomena may be (granting them
to be truthful), I see much that philosophy may question, nothing that
it is incumbent on philosophy to deny--viz., nothing supernatural.
They are but ideas conveyed somehow or other (we have not yet
discovered the means) from one mortal brain to another. Whether, in so
doing, tables walk of their own accord, or fiend-like shapes appear in
a magic circle, or bodyless hands rise and remove material objects,
or a Thing of Darkness, such as presented itself to me, freeze our
blood--still am I persuaded that these are but agencies conveyed, as
by electric wires, to my own brain from the brain of another. In some
constitutions there is a natural chemistry, and these constitutions
may produce chemic wonders--in others a natural fluid, call it
electricity, and these may produce electric wonders. But the wonders
differ from Normal Science in this--they are alike objectless,
purposeless, puerile, frivolous. They lead on to no grand results; and
therefore the world does not heed, and true sages have not cultivated
them. But sure I am, that of all I saw or heard, a man, human as
myself, was the remote originator; and I believe unconsciously to
himself as to the exact effects produced, for this reason: no two
persons, you say, have ever told you that they experienced exactly the
same thing. Well, observe, no two persons ever experience exactly the
same dream. If this were an ordinary imposture, the machinery would
be arranged for results that would but little vary; if it were a
supernatural agency permitted by the Almighty, it would surely be
for some definite end. These phenomena belong to neither class; my
persuasion is, that they originate in some brain now far distant; that
that brain had no distinct volition in anything that occurred; that
what does occur reflects but its devious, motley, ever-shifting,
half-formed thoughts; in short, that, it has been but the dreams of
such a brain put into action and invested with a semi-substance. That
this brain is of immense power, that it can set matter into movement,
that it is malignant and destructive, I believe; some material force
must have killed my dog; the same force might, for aught I know, have
sufficed to kill myself, had I been as subjugated by terror as
the dog--had my intellect or my spirit given me no countervailing
resistance in my will."

"It killed your dog! that is fearful! indeed it is strange that no
animal can be induced to stay in that house; not even a cat. Rats and
mice are never found in it."

"The instincts of the brute creation detect influences deadly to their
existence. Man's reason has a sense less subtle, because it has
a resisting power more supreme. But enough; do you comprehend my

"Yes, though imperfectly--and I accept any crotchet (pardon the word),
however odd, rather than embrace at once the notion of ghosts and
hobgoblins we imbibed in our nurseries. Still, to my unfortunate house
the evil is the same. What on earth can I do with the house?"

"I will tell you what I would do. I am convinced from my own internal
feelings that the small unfurnished room at right angles to the door
of the bedroom which I occupied, forms a starting-point or receptacle
for the influences which haunt the house; and I strongly advise you to
have the walls opened, the floor removed--nay, the whole room pulled
down. I observe that it is detached from the body of the house, built
over the small back-yard, and could be removed without injury to the
rest of the building."

"And you think, if I did that----"

"You would cut off the telegraph wires. Try it, I am so persuaded that
I am right, that I will pay half the expense if you will allow me to
direct the operations."

"Nay, I am well able to afford the cost; for the rest, allow me to
write to you."

About ten days afterwards I received a letter from Mr. J----, telling
me that he had visited the house since I had seen him; that he had
found the two letters I had described, replaced in the drawer from
which I had taken them; that he had read them with misgivings like my
own; that he had instituted a cautious inquiry about the woman to whom
I rightly conjectured they had been written. It seemed that thirty-six
years ago (a year before the date of the letters) she had married,
against the wish of her relations, an American of very suspicious
character; in fact, he was generally believed to have been a pirate.
She herself was the daughter of very respectable tradespeople, and had
served in the capacity of a nursery governess before her marriage. She
had a brother, a widower, who was considered wealthy, and who had one
child of about six years old. A month after the marriage, the body of
this brother was found in the Thames, near London Bridge; there seemed
some marks of violence about his throat, but they were not deemed
sufficient to warrant the inquest in any other verdict than that of
"found drowned."

The American and his wife took charge of the little boy, the deceased
brother having by his will left his sister the guardian of his only
child--and in event of the child's death, the sister inherited. The
child died about six months afterwards--it was supposed to have been
neglected and ill-treated. The neighbours deposed to have heard it
shriek at night. The surgeon who had examined it after death, said
that it was emaciated as if from want of nourishment, and the body was
covered with livid bruises. It seemed that one winter night the child
had sought to escape--crept out into the back-yard--tried to scale the
wall--fallen back exhausted, and been found at morning on the stones
in a dying state. But though there was some evidence of cruelty,
there was none of murder; and the aunt and her husband had sought to
palliate cruelty by alleging the exceeding stubbornness and perversity
of the child, who was declared to be half-witted. Be that as it may,
at the orphan's death the aunt inherited her brother's fortune. Before
the first wedded year was out, the American quitted England abruptly,
and never returned to it. He obtained a cruising vessel, which was
lost in the Atlantic two years afterwards. The widow was left in
affluence: but reverses of various kinds had befallen her: a bank
broke--an investment failed--she went into a small business and became
insolvent--then she entered into service, sinking lower and lower,
from housekeeper down to maid-of-all-work--never long retaining a
place, though nothing decided against her character was ever alleged.
She was considered sober, honest, and peculiarly quiet in her ways;
still nothing prospered with her. And so she had dropped into the
workhouse, from which Mr. J---- had taken her, to be placed in charge
of the very house which she had rented as mistress in the first year
of her wedded life.

Mr. J---- added that he had passed an hour alone in the unfurnished
room which I had urged him to destroy, and that his impressions of
dread while there were so great, though he had neither heard nor seen
anything, that he was eager to have the walls bared and the floors
removed as I had suggested. He had engaged persons for the work, and
would commence any day I would name.

The day was accordingly fixed. I repaired to the haunted house--we
went into the blind dreary room, took up the skirting, and then
the floors. Under the rafters, covered with rubbish, was found a
trap-door, quite large enough to admit a man. It was closely nailed
down, with clamps and rivets of iron. On removing these we descended
into a room below, the existence of which had never been suspected.
In this room there had been a window and a flue, but they had been
bricked over, evidently for many years. By the help of candles
we examined this place; it still retained some mouldering
furniture--three chairs, an oak settle, a table--all of the fashion of
about eighty years ago. There was a chest of drawers against the wall,
in which we found, half-rotted away, old-fashioned articles of a man's
dress, such as might have been worn eighty or a hundred years ago by a
gentleman of some rank--costly steel buckles and buttons, like those
yet worn in court-dresses, a handsome court sword--in a waistcoat
which had once been rich with gold-lace, but which was now blackened
and foul with damp, we found five guineas, a few silver coins, and
an ivory ticket, probably for some place of entertainment long since
passed away. But our main discovery was in a kind of iron safe fixed
to the wall, the lock of which it cost us much trouble to get picked.

In this safe were three shelves, and two small drawers. Ranged on the
shelves were several small bottles of crystal, hermetically stopped.
They contained colourless volatile essences, of the nature of which
I shall only say that they were not poisons-- phosphor and ammonia
entered into some of them. There were also some very curious glass
tubes, and a small pointed rod of iron, with a large lump of
rock-crystal, and another of amber--also a loadstone of great power.

In one of the drawers we found a miniature portrait set in gold, and
retaining the freshness of its colours most remarkably, considering
the length of time it had probably been there. The portrait was that
of a man who might be somewhat advanced in middle life, perhaps
forty-seven or forty-eight.

It was a remarkable face--a most impressive face. If you could fancy
some mighty serpent transformed into man, preserving in the human
lineaments the old serpent type, you would have a better idea of that
countenance than long descriptions can convey: the width and flatness
of frontal--the tapering elegance of contour disguising the strength
of the deadly jaw--the long, large, terrible eye, glittering and green
as the emerald--and withal a certain ruthless calm, as if from the
consciousness of an immense power.

Mechanically I turned round the miniature to examine the back of it,
and on the back was engraved a pentacle; in the middle of the pentacle
a ladder, and the third step of the ladder was formed by the date
1765. Examining still more minutely, I detected a spring; this, on
being pressed, opened the back of the miniature as a lid. Within-side
the lid were engraved, "Marianna to thee--Be faithful in life and in
death to----." Here follows a name that I will not mention, but it
was not unfamiliar to me. I had heard it spoken of by old men in my
childhood as the name borne by a dazzling charlatan who had made a
great sensation in London for a year or so, and had fled the country
in the charge of a double murder within his own house--that of his
mistress and his rival. I said nothing of this to Mr. J----, to whom
reluctantly I resigned the miniature.

We had found no difficulty in opening the first drawer within the iron
safe; we found great difficulty in opening the second: it was not
locked, but it resisted all efforts, till we inserted in the chinks
the edge of a chisel. When we had thus drawn it forth, we found a very
singular apparatus in the nicest order. Upon a small thin book, or
rather tablet, was placed a saucer of crystal; this saucer was filled
with a clear liquid--on that liquid floated a kind of compass, with a
needle shifting rapidly round; but instead of the usual points of a
compass were seven strange characters, not very unlike those used by
astrologers to denote the planets. A peculiar, but not strong nor
displeasing odour, came from this drawer, which was lined with a wood
that we afterwards discovered to be hazel. Whatever the cause of this
odour, it produced a material effect on the nerves. We all felt
it, even the two workmen who were in the room--a creeping tingling
sensation from the tips of the fingers to the roots of the hair.
Impatient to examine the tablet, I removed the saucer. As I did so the
needle of the compass went round and round with exceeding swiftness,
and I felt a shock that ran through my whole frame, so that I dropped
the saucer on the floor. The liquid was spilt--the saucer was
broken--the compass rolled to the end of the room--and at that instant
the walls shook to and fro, as if a giant had swayed and rocked them.

The two workmen were so frightened that they ran up the ladder by
which we had descended from the trap-door; but seeing that nothing
more happened, they were easily induced to return.

Meanwhile I had opened the tablet: it was bound in plain red leather,
with a silver clasp; it contained but one sheet of thick vellum, and
on that sheet were inscribed, within a double pentacle, words in old
monkish Latin, which are literally to be translated thus: "On all that
it can reach within these walls--sentient or inanimate, living or
dead--as moves the needle, so work my will! Accursed be the house, and
restless be the dwellers therein."

We found no more. Mr. J---- burnt the tablet and its anathema. He
razed to the foundations the part of the building containing the
secret room with the chamber over it. He had then the courage
to inhabit the house himself for a month, and a quieter,
better-conditioned house could not be found in all London.
Subsequently he let it to advantage, and his tenant has made no


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